Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum at Dulles

So you've been to National Mall to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. You've seen the Wright Brothers plane and taken the requisite postcard photo in front of the Apollo 11 capsule. You've eaten astronaut ice cream and can explain the basics of aerodynamics. You've even endured 30 ultra-hyper 8th grade students clad in fluorescent green, just so you could piggyback onto their tour. Congratulations, you've graduated from Air and Space 101 and can now move on to bigger and better things! And when I say bigger... I mean BIGGER!

The Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum is actually made up of two locations. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the second and lesser known site that is located next to Dulles Airport in Virginia. But just because it is less well known, don't think it is any less worth your time. Many museums have off site storage facilities to house their less popular (read: less interesting or less significant) items. This is not the case here.

The Space Shuttle. The SR-71 Blackbird (world's fastest jet). The Enola Gay (dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima). The Concord. These are not aerospace minor leaguers and this is no storage unit.

But beyond all of the amazing artifacts, the thing that impressed me was the facility itself. In addition to being immense, it also felt intimate. I loved being able to walk around, under, and over these legends of aviation. The hanger is littered with cat walks that allows visitors to view each plane from all angles and perspectives. Besides getting great photo ops, it helps make it feel less like a museum and more like a living hangar.

As the resident science geek (yes, photos of me as a kid dressed in NASA-related garb probably exist) in our relationship, I'd be remiss to not mention the entire "room" of space stuff.

Beyond the shuttle, there are rockets, probes, and satellites, along with space suits and tools. Again, few things are behind glass, making them feel all that more accessible.

I understand that there are a lot of things to see and learn when visiting Washington, D.C. I can even understand the argument that the "second" Air and Space Museum doesn't make the cut when you only have a couple of days in the city. But for those of you on your second or third trip, much less you locals out there, this should be a stop that is high on your list.

J says

This is my kind of museum because it doesn't feel at all like a museum. As B mentioned, the catwalk system lets you go under, above, and around full size planes and spacecraft. My favorite part was the 164-foot observation tower that provides great views of the Dulles runway and teaches you about the world of aircraft controllers. Fascinating stuff!

As you can tell from this blog, I really like food. Naturally, I was drawn to the display of astronaut food. There was an array of different culinary items from across the world that had been developed for space dining. None of it looked particularly tasty, but it was interesting nonetheless.

The museum has free admission but there is a $15 parking fee. Also available (for an added fee) are IMAX movies, flight simulators, and junior astronaut space suits for sale in the gift shop (halloween costume anyone?).

1 comment:

Vidda said...

Something for our next visit :-)